IIT Madras' Prem Watsa back in limelight after BlackBerry Limited bid

Written by Press Trust of India | New Delhi | Updated: Sep 25 2013, 05:20am hrs
Prem WatsaPrem Watsa
IIT Madras graduate Prem Watsa- led Fairfax Financials has offered to buy out Canadian firm BlackBerry Limited for USD 4.7 billion bringing the Indian origin investor back on the global M&A scene.

All eyes are on Watsa, who migrated to the North American country in 1972, as to whether he will be able to conclude the deal successfully and turn around the troubled smartphone maker who has been hit hard by Apple and Samsung.

Watsa, often called the Warren Buffet of Canada for his unexpected, unorthodox buying moves and predictions, has been at the helm of affairs at Fairfax Financial Holdings as its Chairman and CEO since 1985 and has a track record for making iconoclastic investment deals.

Living in Canada and investing in firms across the globe, Watsa has been in touch with India through investments in ICICI Lombard General Insurance Company and Thomas Cook India.

In 1999, Fairfax and ICICI Bank formed a joint venture to form ICICI Lombard GIC a leading private sector general insurance firm in India with a Gross Written Premium (GWP) of Rs 6,420 crore for the year ended March 31, 2013.

Last year, his group purchased 77 per cent of the publicly-listed Indian operations of Thomas Cook UK. Thomas Cook India is a leading foreign exchange company in India with 154 foreign exchange bureaus in all major airports and cities and a leading bank note remittance firm in India, handling in excess of USD 1.7 billion annually.

Last night, following months of speculation of a buyout, BlackBerry Limited said it reached a tentative agreement for a USD 4.7 billion buyout by a group led by Watsa-led Fairfax -- its biggest shareholder. Fairfax owns about 10 per cent of the handset manufacturers common shares.

Toronto-based Fairfax is a financial holding firm engaged in property, casualty & life insurance and re-insurance, investment management and insurance claims management.

Hyderabad-born Watsa, who earned a bachelor's in chemical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology at Madras in 1971, moved to Ontario in 1972 where he earned his MBA degree from the University of Western Ontario.

Beginning his professional career at Confederation Life Insurance as vice-president of Confederation Life Investment Counsel in 1974, Watsa left the firm in 1984 to join as vice president of start-up firm GW Asset Management, where he served for a year.

He co-founded Hamblin Watsa Investment Counsel (which was acquired by Fairfax in 1991) in 1984. The following year, Watsa took control of Markel Financial Holdings, which was later re-named as Fairfax.

Watsa, who serves on Advisory Board of the Richard Ivey School of Business, is also the Chancellor of University of Waterloo, a Canadian city where BlackBerry Limited is headquartered.